Makin’ Tracks: Hailey Whitters Applies Country’s Past to ‘Everything She Ain’t’

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As large swaths of the country audience indulge in ‘90s country flashbacks, Hailey Whitters’ first radio single, “Everything She Ain’t,” offers an amalgam of throwback ideals.

The bridge’s “girl-next-door” message is in the same vein as the plot of The Judds’ “Why Not Me”; Ryan Tyndell’s hard-coated harmonies contrast with Whitters’ ultra-female sound the same way that Robert John “Mutt” Lange’s background vocals complemented Shania Twain’s classic leads; and Whitters’ own voice is frequently compared to The Chicks’ lead singer, Natalie Maines.

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“Everything” benefits, Whitters believes, from its status as a late addition to her album Raised. “This song was one of the absolute last songs we cut,” she says. “To be completely honest, in my mind, my record was done. I don’t want to say I was half-assing this, but I was like, ‘I don’t really know what this is gonna be right now.’ So I think I was just kind of not putting as much pressure on it, or on myself, as I maybe would have.”

“Everything She Ain’t” was low-pressure from its inception on March 2, 2021, at Little Louder Music, where Tyndell (Eric Church’s “Springsteen,” Keith Urban’s “We Were”) is signed. They spent the bulk of a writing session with Bryan Simpson (Blake Shelton’s “A Guy With A Girl,” Joe Nichols’ “Yeah”) working on a different song – “a spaghetti-western idea,” she recalls – but it was kind of heavy, and once they put it aside, they wanted to lighten the mood.

“Sometimes you try to reverse the world, spin the world off its axis,” Simpson notes. “And sometimes you’re just trying to write something fun to sing that’s playful. That’s taken me 20 years to get okay with, by the way.”

Whitters blurted out the hook – “I’m everything she is/ And everything she ain’t” – and Tyndell latched onto a chord progression with a descending bass line. They messed with the format for a bit, but no more than about 30-40 minutes. Since it was the midst of the pandemic and schedules were loose, they were able to reconvene a few days later, and it lent some time to play with it a bit more.

At home, Tyndell developed the opening lines of the chorus: “The whiskey in your soda/ The lime in your Corona/ Shotgun in your Tacoma.”

“I do remember sitting in my living room looking out the window and seeing my Tacoma in the driveway, and just kind of spitting out a few of those lines,” he says. “I just did a little voice memo of what I had, and then we all got back together and picked what we liked, kind of just compared notes and and then went from there.”

Tyndell would also originate the follow-up line, “Little Loretta to your Hank” – a reference to Country Music Hall of Fame members Lynn and Williams. Simpson lobbied to change it, with “Audrey to your Hank” recognizing the woman who inspired many of Williams’ heartbreak classics. Audrey is a name that many country fans, particularly in younger demographics, may not recognize.

“There’s a little country music history,” Simpson says. “There’s an opportunity to dig in and pay attention to a huge instigator in his career.”

“It’s not Johnny [Cash] and June [Carter],” Whitters adds. “It’s not like all the sweet relationship stories that you hear throughout country music. It’s got a little bit of fight in it.”

They crafted the opening verse as a putdown of the male character’s current girlfriend – “She ain’t a peach you oughta be pickin’” – setting up the chorus’ role as a celebration of all the singer’s positive possibilities. And by the second verse, the protagonist spies the couple dancing in a bar, continuing her dismissal of the other woman while maintaining her self-confidence. Before they finished, they developed a short bridge, too, taking one last shot to say the girlfriend is “all wrong for you” while fitting in that “girl-next-door” phrase.

“If this was a paper, that would be the thesis statement that you start with,” Tyndell says. “We didn’t want to lose it.”

Even with the bridge and an instrumental solo, “Everything She Ain’t” still lasted a scant two-and-a-half minutes. “It’s short, it’s easy to love, it’s like ice cream,” Simpson notes. “It’s sugar-sweet the whole way through – not sugar-sweet lyrically – but it definitely has that [appeal], with her voice being so punchy on it.”

Tyndell oversaw the demo, supporting Whitters’ fluid vocal with an almost-folky acoustic guitar and commanding snare programming that included two-beat rhythms after key phrases to give it just a little more strength. The demo wasn’t completed, though, when Whitters and her husband, producer Jake Gear, got caught up on the day at home. So she sang “Everything She Ain’t” a cappella, and they ended up throwing in short hand claps in the spots where Tyndell was emphasizing those two-beat rhythmic phrases.

Since Raised was mostly completed, they cut “Everything” as a loose demo at Sound Emporium on April 21, 2021, mostly to see what they might be able to make of it. Gear applied more country instrumentation, with fiddler Eamon McLoughlin, steel guitarist Russ Pahl and Bryan Sutton doubling on acoustic guitar and banjo. That brought out the Natalie Maines aspect in Whitters’ voice, and the descending progression has been compared to The Chicks’ “Theres Your Trouble” — though it’s only the arrangement that creates that impression, as the melody is nothing like “Trouble.”

“We’re aware of the similarities,” Gear says. “Especially with everybody being so trigger-happy on these copyright lawsuits, we’ve had those conversations, and we purposely made sure and double-checked before committing anything to a final mix.”

“You can’t choose what the tone or timbre of your voice is,” he continues. “If you grew up listening for 15 years to the Dixie Chicks – who were influenced by a lot of other people that Hailey is also influenced by – yes, she sounds like Natalie.”

Gear provided some additional dressing by hiring Mike Rojas for an underlying organ sound, having drummer Jerry Roe sprinkle in some percussive elements, and getting Roe and Midland drummer Robbie Crowell to record the hand claps. Crowell also dropped in a guiro – the fish-shaped percussive instrument – for extra texture at random locations.

“It’s hilarious that he’s credited on the song, because it literally took us about 30 seconds to record it,” Gear says. “I probably could have played it, but I wanted a real drummer with pocket and timing to be able to do it. So we had him play.”

Ultimately, Songs & Daughters label execs loved “Everything She Ain’t,” and it was upgraded from a demo to a master. Parent Big Loud released it country radio via PlayMPE on June 1. It charted even before its official add date, and ranks No. 56 on Billboard‘s Country Airplay chart dated July 2, in its eighth week on the list.

“The world is heavy, and it was heavy when we were writing this and it’s gonna continue to be heavy,” she reasons. “I’m not trying to change anyone’s life. I’m just trying to make someone’s day. I feel like this song does that in two minutes and 30 seconds.”

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